March 29, 2020 | By Jennifer Ring
Making Art in a Time of Social Distancing
Derek Donnelly’s Paint it Forward Project
Pays Artists to Produce Online Content
. . .
Are you following Derek Donnelly on Facebook? The Pinellas Arts Village artist, known for his colorful murals, is now focused on finding work for full-time artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The project’s called Paint it Forward, and it’s providing small stipends to artists in exchange for online content.
Donnelly introduced Paint it Forward via his Facebook profile page on March 25. The project is a collaboration between Donnelly’s nonprofit Public Art Project, the City of St. Petersburg, local businesses, marketing agencies, private citizens and artists.
“I’m a Florida kid,” Donnelly tells me. “I started [Public Art Project a couple years ago] because I want to help elevate artists and create a better future for art in Tampa Bay, so that there’s culture here in the future and it’s not a shitty stagnant economy like it was when I was a child…
“I feel like it’s my duty to keep that going… There are certain people that I feel should be very active right now that are just kind of sitting around eating popcorn.”
Public Art Project provides a $150-300 stipend to local artists to produce photos and video of them creating. “These can be entertainment, instructional and/or DIY projects,” says Donnelly, “Something that people can do while at home or with kids while at home is also ideal.”
The idea is to encourage artists to work together to raise awareness for each other and show the community how important the arts are to the culture of St. Petersburg and beyond. “It’s paying it forward with an artistic twist,” Donnelly tells me.
Donnelly’s enlisted about a dozen Tampa Bay area artists to participate thus far. “People that help keep the ‘Burg colorful,” he says. The list includes Ree Jenkins, Jennifer Kosharek, John Gascot, Jennifer Pergamo of Pergamo Paper Goods, Vince Pompei and Melissa Schultz. “Jennifer Kosharek has done an amazing job,” says Donnelly. “She’s actually making masks for hospital workers and everybody.”
“I think it’s important to get back to work, and I know it’s not for everybody — but to share your creative process and hopefully get people involved in your process,” John Gascot told me in a phone interview this week.
Donnelly thinks it’s something artists should be doing anyway. “It’d be f-ing awesome [to have Paint it Forward turn into] a whole movement and people were just doing this anyway to help generate income,” says Donnelly. “It will work. Believing in that kind of stuff is how I’ve made my living for years now.”
If you’re looking for a way to support local artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, donating to Public Art Project is a good way to do it. Many artists earn a large percentage of their income selling their art at large events. John Gascot for example, sets up a booth at about 8-10 public events a year, and he knows artists who do a lot more than that.
Now that these events are all canceled, the only way for working artists to support themselves is through online sales. “You hope that the people who normally show up for your stuff will especially support you now,” says Gascot. “Online is kind of all we’ve got right now.”
Donnelly tells us, “It’s really important now to support artists, especially your favorite artists, because they might not be able to continue that career path and inspire the community — if we don’t support them now.”